capital outlay 051618

Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, confers with Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, during debate Wednesday, May 16, 2018 over the state's construction budget.

Louisiana senators approved Wednesday morning legislation that should theoretically be able to fund the vast majority, if not all, of the highest priority construction projects for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The number and amount available for those highest priority projects, however, has been reduced from about $961 million for this year to about $683 million for next year.

“Because of the current budget struggle, we are severely constrained with what we could do,” said Senate Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Committee Chairman JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, who is handling House Bill 2, known as capital outlay in the State Capitol.

But Morrell said, most of the projects on the list should go to the Bond Commission and receive funding. The Bond Commission sells the bonds, which need to be repaid by taxpayers with interest, to raise the money to pay for the for the projects.

The list of projects skews towards infrastructure, repairs to university and other state buildings. 

And depending on what projects are ready to go when, Morrell said officials should be able to start dipping into the list considered the second most important.

“I have been working closely with the administration to make sure every region is well represented,” Morrell said.

Obviously, some projects are larger and are aimed at economic development, he said. But absent those projects, “We’re trying to make sure everybody gets something out it,” Morrell said.

The way capital outlay has been done for years is legislators fill up House Bill 2 with all sorts of construction projects. The Legislature approves the projects. Because far more projects are included than money available, the Division of Administration, whose leader is chosen by the governor, ranks the proposals for the state Bond Commission, which acquires the loans necessary. The rest of the legislatively approved projects receive no money and no authority to sell bonds for funding.

The Senate voted 33-0 to approve the legislation, which now returns to the House for representatives to consider the changes in the list of projects and the funding amounts authorized by the Senate.

If approved in the House, HB2 would then go to the governor, who has the power to veto any or all the projects on the list.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.